Sales Tips: 3 Mistakes to Avoid with Sequence of Events
By Gary Walker, EVP of Channel Sales & Operations, CustomerCentric Selling®
Recently I received a few questions about the Sequence of Events (SOE) and its applicability when the product being sold is relatively inexpensive or when the prospect won't agree to the proposed SOE, etc. I concluded that it might be beneficial to take a moment and provide you with a 'refresher' relative to the SOE, its purpose, how to use it, and some frequently asked questions and responses related to it.
What is a Sequence of Events (SOE)?
An SOE is a mutually agreed-upon series of steps or activities that the prospect has indicated they need to accomplish in order to complete their evaluation of your offering and subsequently make an informed decision for their organization. The SOE is how prospects plan to evaluate and complete the purchase of your offering.
Just as a competent chess player thinks several moves ahead, salespeople should do the same as they attempt to facilitate the buying process. Despite the fact that every sale appears to be unique, there are many commons steps in the buying process that have a high probability of recurring. For instance, receiving a product demo or checking references are examples of common recurring steps in the sales process regardless of the size of the opportunity. The key is getting each individual buyer to overtly agree to what those steps should be in the process.
When the evaluation of your offering becomes documented by a clearly stated SOE, the process of controlling the sales cycle begins to resemble project management. The decision process embedded in the SOE (action/steps, dates and responsibility) has a defined beginning and end. This structure gives both the salesperson and their manager the ability to objectively assess progress and probability throughout the evaluation process.
There's also an ancillary benefit to an SOE. When you handle the sales cycle in a highly professional manner, buyers are likely to conclude that your implementation will be professional as well. This perception allows buyers to feel more comfortable with your offering, especially if you are in the process of replacing an incumbent vendor's system. We believe you can make the way we engage and sell to your prospects as big a competitive advantage and differentiator as the product or service you provide.
3 Common Mistakes with SOE
Our experience to date is that some salespeople make three (3) fundamental mistakes when they attempt to implement this concept of a mutually agreed-upon SOE.
Mistake 1: Before asking the buyer if and how they would like to complete their evaluation, they attempt to impose an SOE on the prospect.
The buyer's immediate reaction or impression is that you are dictating what they are going to do, so they immediately push back against the SOE.
Before even mentioning the SOE, you need to ask the buyer two questions. First, you need to know if based on what you have learned and shared with them, whether they would like to complete their evaluation of your company and its offering. If they answer 'yes' to that question, then you need to ask them, "How would you like to go about completing your evaluation?" This is key. You are giving them the opportunity to tell you what they need in order to make an informed selection decision. Once they are done educating you, you can then introduce the SOE by saying something like, "Some of the things that you just indicated would be required are similar to what our other clients have also requested. As a matter of fact, let me share with you a typical sequence of events or steps our clients typically follow when evaluating our offering."
Some of the things they asked for, those recurring steps, will be included in the SOE you share with them. They will see that what they have asked for is typical of your other clients. It's what allows you to obtain buy-in.
Mistake 2: The first three or four prospects that you attempt to put an SOE in place with will push back at the concept.
You hear things such as "We have our own process that we follow. We'll let you know what we need and when we need it." As a result, you make the mistaken determination that the SOE doesn't work. Is that really the case? Or could it be that you just found out the prospect is not as serious as you would have hoped and are having a difficult time facing reality? That's right; they are probably leaning toward another vendor.
A buyer's willingness or unwillingness to commit to a mutually agree-to plan moving forward is a watershed qualification event in the entire sales process. If they are agreeable, you've likely positioned yourself to win. If they are unwilling (or unable) to agree, you are likely finding out, whether we like it or not, that something just isn't right. That is the time for you to counsel with your manager and determine what you would like to do next.
Mistake 3: The salesperson gets a mutually agreed-to SOE in place, but fails to keep it current or follow it.
Why go to the effort, if you are not going to use what has been agreed to by your prospect? This is a living document whose steps and dates could change. That's okay. Use it to control the process without over controlling your buyer. Your ability to forecast more accurately will improve tremendously when you have a mutual agreement to what has to happen and when and the close date is based on the last date in your SOE.
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